I was thirteen the first time I visited the Museum of Breezes, with my Grandfather who was eighty-three. Housed in a stone mansion and founded in 1827, it boasts one thousand and seventy-three different species of breezes caught from around the world and categorized into sections by strength, according to the Wheeler-Yoshida scale.1 The first section contains light summer winds, thin wisps of silk, clear and colorless in their glass jars stacked in even rows. In the slant of wintery afternoon light, the jars looked empty. I had to squint to catch the swirls before they vanished. The next section houses medium strength winds collected from cooler climates in the Northern hemisphere. These are wetter, like breezes after rain. Thick and murky, so heavy they sink to the bottom of their jars where they pool like grey mists in an open field. Grandfather said their stillness reminded him of the war, the time he crawled on his belly for miles, the weight of the sky pressing down like an old mattress. Lastly, cordoned off in a section by themselves are the storm winds, the squalls, gales, typhoons, hurricanes. These are the heaviest of all, thick and opaque, each imprisoned in its own shatter-proof glass cage, six inches thick to muffle their screams.
1. The Wheeler-Yoshida scale for cataloguing breezes according to their weight was developed in the early 1800s by British meteorologist Mina Wheeler and Japanese climatologist, B.C. Yoshida.
My mother and I share the same hair, face, hands. Some days I get the face, she gets the hands. Some days she takes the face before I'm awake so I walk around without a hat, having no head to put it on. Some days she eats her soup with a straw, having no arms or hands, leaning forward for balance. At night we hang everything in the hall closet - freshly shampooed hair, hands, face, all washed then draped over hangers. We sleep in the spare bedroom side by side, flowered nightgowns arranged over our limbs. Unable to see, we hear the movement of stars.
Useful information for the soon-to-be beheaded
The following is an excerpt from a pamphlet designed by the Commission on Public Severance, handed out to condemned individuals as they waited in line for their turn at the guillotine. Reproduced here with permission:
1. Close your eyes tightly so as not to get dizzy when your severed head falls off the executioner's block and rolls across the wood platform, picking up splinters and human debris.
2. When you cease to feel movement, it is safe to open your eyes. Remain calm as you watch your body dragged off and stacked on a pile of headless bodies. Your head will be tossed or kicked into the basket of severed heads.1
3. This is likely to be the last time you will see your body. Expect a period of adjustment to the separation. You may experience a lingering sensation of movement in limbs you no longer have. This will pass.
4. This is where your head will remain for whatever period of sentience it has left.2 Your vocal chords will not work. You might begin to feel a sense of freedom, of lightness, buoyancy, like a balloon that is suddenly untethered.
5. Think back to the day you were born, remember what it felt like the first time light fell across your closed eyelids, the weight of air on your forehead. Remember the last time you were born human, the sensation of trailing your fingers in a lake, cupping water in your hands. Or, think of the time you were a bird, remember stretching your wings, pushing against the wind, taking flight. Remember that it always ends this way.
1. If the basket contains other heads, they will ease your transition. If your's is the first head in an empty basket, try not to think about the abrupt separation from your body. Focus instead on the details of your new surroundings: the closely woven fibers of the basket in which your head lies, the checkered spaces between the weave where sunlight passes through, the intermingled scent of sweat, tears, blood that permeates the air.
2. On average, severed heads retain approximately fourteen seconds of sentience. However, exceptions have been known to occur. It has been reported that some severed heads remain sentient for several hours, and in a few cases, for more than a day.
-from Useful Information for the Soon-to-be Beheaded
BIO: Shivani Mehta was born in India and grew up in Singapore. She moved to New York to attend college and subsequently, law school. A recovering attorney, she is the proud mother of 2-year old twins who, fortunately, sleep long enough to allow her to write prose poems. She lives near Los Angeles with her husband, children, dog, two cats, and several fish. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the Midwest Quarterly Review, Hotel Amerika, the Prose Poem Project, Mudfish Magazine, Fjord’s Review, Coachella Review, the Normal School, Generations Literary Journal, among others. One of her poems was a winner in Narrative Magazine’s annual poetry contest in 2011. Shivani’s book of prose poems, Useful Information for the Soon-to-be Beheaded, is now available from Press53.